A boy named Barnaby wishes for a fairy godmother. Instead, he gets a fairy godfather who uses a cigar for a magic wand. Bumbling but endearing, Mr. O’Malley rarely gets his magic to work — even when he consults his Fairy Godfather’s Handy Pocket Guide. The true magic of Barnaby resides in its canny mix of fantasy and satire, amplified by the understated elegance of Crockett Johnson’s clean, spare art. Using typeset dialogue (Barnaby was the first daily comic strip to do so regularly) allowed Johnson to include — by his estimation — some 60% more words, giving O’Malley more room to develop a rhetorical style that, as one critic put it, combines the “style of a medicine-show huckster with that of Dickens’s Mr. Micawber.” In its combination of Johnson’s sly wit and O’Malley’s amiable windbaggery, a child’s feeling of wonder and an adult’s wariness, highly literate jokes and a keen eye for the ridiculous, Barnaby expanded our sense of what comics can do.
Though one of the classic comic strips, Barnaby was never a popular hit — at its height, it was syndicated in only 52 papers. By contrast, Chic Young’s Blondie was appearing in as many as 850 papers at that time. As Coulton Waugh noted in his landmark The Comics (1947), Barnaby’s audience may not “compare, numerically, with that of the top, mass-appeal strips. But it is a very discriminating audience, which includes a number of strip artists themselves, and so this strip stands a good chance of remaining to influence the course of American humor for many years to come.” He was right.
—Since the last time I posted on this blog, the comics internet erupted with controversy over the Eisner Awards judging, especially in regards to past comments by Frank Santoro (who, as all readers surely know, is a Journal columnist and my friend), only to die down almost as quickly once the facts came to light. At this point, I don’t know how much there is to add to what’s already been said, but I think that Tom Spurgeon and Heidi MacDonald are both well worth reading. (My take in a nutshell: You want judges who have strong tastes and opinions, and Frank is one of the most knowledgeable people about comics I have ever met in my life.)
—In other awards news, the Stumptown awards nominations have been announced, and are now open for voting, and Natalia Yanchak, one of the Doug Wright Awards judges, writes about those awards for the Huffington Post.
—And in still other awards news, Sammy Harkham’s Everything Together has just won the L.A. Times Book Prize.
—Librarian Carol Tilley writes about the recent Persepolis debate for the CBLDF.
—Small publisher news: Sparkplug Books has announced that Virginia Paine will be taking over ownership of the company, and Domino Books owner Austin English announces an imminent move that will affect several small publishers and cartoonists, including Domino, Rebus, Revival House, etc., and says this would be a particularly good time to buy some Domino books if you’re so inclined. (I’d guess the same is true for Rebus and Revival House.)
Castrée chronologically documents every hurt, every slight, every refusal of affection, and every thoughtless maternal dismissal. A child tends to crave routine, affection, agency, and a certain solidity from her parents. From her single mother, Castrée apparently received a life of constantly shifting emotional quicksand.
Ivan Brunetti is auctioning off an original comic strip page to help fund his student’s anthology, Linework #4. The page, originally published in The New Yorker, is beautiful and I’ve seen the earlier issues, which are accomplished and beautifully put together.
Today, we have Shaenon Garrity’s latest column, which this time around is a lot more personal than usual, chronicling her history with Joey Manley’s recently shuttered Modern Tales webcomics site:
Joey had a plan for making money. By 2001 he’d begun talking to cartoonists, sometimes over email, sometimes in person. He’d made contact with an eclectic group of webcartoonists in Chicago and was wooing small-press creators in the Bay Area, taking them out to dinner and talking Internet. His plan: a subscription-based webcomics site. Maybe 30 artists, ongoing serials, a monthly or annual fee to read the archives, with the profits split between the artists based on number of hits. In the spirit of old pulp magazines like Amazing Stories and Weird Tales, it would be called Modern Tales.
Meanwhile, Joey was educating himself about webcomics. He set up a podcast, Digital Comics Talk, and a comics review site, Talk About Comics (which continued for many years in various forms, eventually morphed into Graphic Novel Review, and finally passed away peacefully in its sleep). He hung out on message boards. In a corner of the online world that was, back then, small enough that you could be Known pretty easily, he was starting to be Known.
I don’t know how Joey found my comic Narbonic, probably through the Bay Area indie crowd, but at some point it made it to the bottom of his list and he emailed me. He recruited me all sneaky-like. I know, because I kept the email.
Also, we have Dominic Umile’s review of Ian Culbard’s adaptation of H.P. Lovecraft’s Case of Charles Dexter Ward:
Action-packed comics don’t often owe to depictions of characters sifting through moldy correspondence, deciphering archaic language, and unlocking mantras typically reserved for cellars or graveyards. The Case of Charles Dexter Ward is largely driven by words, but Ian Culbard — evidently also prone to unearthing dusty texts — has adapted several novels for the comics medium and nabbed the British Fantasy Award for Lovecraft’s At the Mountains of Madness (2010), so he knows well how to move the author to a stylish visual format. There’s lots of talk here, yellowed newspaper cut-ins, and letter reading, each set on black pages. Culbard’s slope-chinned cast wears angular-cornered overcoats and facial expressions styled with minimal line work. They’re dead ringers for the affluent, early 20th century Brit zombies he drew for The New Deadwardians (2012), perpetually serious figures who mull documents and converse in the tall, plush chairs preferred by the era’s upper class. But within these dialogues and rigorous literary exploration lie an urgency and a textured work of horror.
—Michael Cavna (also an Eisner judge this year) interviews Ben Katchor.
—Buried at the bottom of this promotional blog post is the news that Chester Brown has apparently rewritten all of the text and dialogue in The Playboy for a new paperback edition. He’s sort of becoming the Henry James of sex comics.
—Alan Moore talks at length about Nemo: Heart of Ice and his upcoming Lovecraft series Providence with his favorite interlocutor, the man whose name must be copied and pasted to be spelled correctly, Padraig O Mealoid. Also, video has emerged of an old Moore performance of his hard-to-find CIA conspiracy book Brought to Light.
—Image publisher Eric Stephenson talks the Saga/Apple/comiXology controversy, and the line’s upcoming schedule, with CBR.
—Not Comics: An interview with J. David Spurlock, the co-author of a new collection of Margaret Brundage art. Brundage may not have been a cartoonist herself, but her pulp magazine covers were a huge influence on early comic-book imagery.
—Apparently, there’s a long Les Coleman essay on Mark Beyer in the most recent issue of Raw Vision.
Yeah, a lot of your earlier work was more metaphorical and fantastical, less realistic.
I feel that I’m done doing more fantastical things. Who knows, maybe in ten years I’ll be singing a different tune. But it’s weird, because as I was making this book based on reality, I’ve encountered people who’ve said, oh, I wish there was more fantastical elements in this. And I personally feel there’s enough fantasy out there, there are enough beautiful landscapes. In the past, I think there were two factors in making those kinds of fantastical comics. The first factor was mainly that I was terrified, because I felt I still was under this impression that whatever happened at my house when I was a kid was nobody’s business but my own. And the second factor was that I was lazy [Laughs.] My default mechanism was to draw landscapes that were more from my imagination, and that’s kind of easy to draw, because you can make your pencil go and not have to look at anything. And for this book, because I wanted it to be as close to reality as possible, I had to find images, and I had to think of what kind of tree there would be in this or that geographical place, and in some cases look at photographs too, and I personally feel a lot more complete now that I’ve done that, as an artist I feel that I can do this! I can pull it off! And I just feel like a grownup about it. Also I care way more than I used to about facts, I think that all stories deserve to be from… even if I’m making stories that are not autobiographical, that are totally coming from my head, I like the idea that there would be these facts that could anchor it to a specific place in the world.
It’s a slow news day. Here are a few morsels:
The 2013 Eisner Awards have been announced. We’re pleased to be nominated for Best Comics-Related Periodical/Journalism.
And the under-new-ownership Alternative Comics announced a whole slew of releases centered mostly around the publisher’s core cartoonists, a lot of whom really have been missing from the last handful of years of the publishing boom. More news, the best of the day, really: It’s Reggie-12.
It’s Tuesday again, which means it’s Joe McCulloch’s guided tour of the Week in Comics, along with his thoughts on Yoshikazu Yasuhiko.
—Department of Politics. Over at Hazlitt, TCJ columnist Jeet Heer reviews Victor Navasky’s new book on political cartoons, The Art of Controversy, by way of Hitler’s cartoon problem. Paul Gravett examines Margaret Thatcher’s influence on British comics. And Françoise Mouly and Toon Books have started an “Agitprop” section on the Toon Books Tumblr. (Here’s Sue Coe on animal farming.)
—Department of Interviews. Gil Roth, who I had the pleasure of meeting at MoCCA, just posted the first “live” episode of his Virtual Memories podcast, with special guest Ben Katchor. Alex Dueben at Suicide Girls talks to Ann Nocenti, who has had an interesting career. Michael Cavna talks to internet celebrity and Simon’s Cat creator Simon Tofield.
John Hilgart returns to the site with an interview with Elaine Lee and Michael Kaluta on their new Starstruck push.
Elaine – This book will have 80 new pages of very detailed sequential art that will need to be drawn, inked and lettered. Our basic goal is $44,000. That would allow Michael to finish the black and white artwork, me to finish the script and layout, pay for the lettering and print signed and numbered, hardback books and mail them. Plus, other incentives.
If we can get $69,000, the whole 140 pages will get new, fully painted, digital color. If we make what we need for the color, the painting can start right away on some of the many finished pages, while Michael is drawing new ones.
We’re hoping to finish the work by end of December of this year. Then we’re allowing a couple of months to get the books printed.
Tucker Stone’s been doing a lot of laundry lately, and watching a lot of Mexican television in consequence—experience which colors his latest review column deeply:
I wouldn’t say I look forward to these shows, because I keep bringing things to read, assuming this is the week I’ll fight the temptation to stare, but it didn’t take very many trips before I started to respect these shows, a whole lot more than I would have expected to. They’re well-made entertainments, built around very base, very broad concerns: sex, money, violence, family. The people in the fictional stories are trying to get ahead, with some relying on hard work, and others relying on trickery. Love seems important, although loyalty is what they talk about most. The game and talk show hybrid relies more heavily on schtick, with the humor usually coming via very feminine fat men; the women give it to you straight, while dressed just on the classy side of risque. I don’t respect these shows as art, but they don’t want me to. They just want me to pay attention, and while my own ignorance keeps me a bit removed, they’re incredibly successful at doing that.
And elsewhere on the internet, I’m not having much luck. Sometimes, there’s a lot of news, sometimes there’s a little.
—Chris Ware’s Building Stories won the 2013 Lynd Ward Prize, with Lili Carré’s Heads or Tails and Theo ELlsworth’s Understanding Monster also picking up honors.
—Elaine Lee talks to The Beat about her Kickstarter-supported Starstruck project.